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Bad Trades and Torn ACLs: A Cautionary Tale

A Schwab VP shares his story of how straying from the plan can hurt—in trading and physical training.

My journey took a U-turn when I let my emotions get the best of me. Twice. 

It was a Saturday afternoon last winter and I was at the gym with my six-year-old son. I had planned to do some cross-training to prepare for the Austin Half Marathon. I was particularly excited about this race because it had become a tradition for me, having run it six times before. After dropping him off in the supervised play area, I stowed my gear and headed for the gym. One minute, I’m deep in thought, reviewing my training plan in my head; I know I need to make the most of my time since my son is waiting on me, and I’m committed to staying focused and on task. The next minute, before I even really know what’s happening, I’m in a pick-up game of basketball. It really was just a split second decision. And even though I knew in my gut that I should stick to my training plan, I ignored my instincts and threw myself 100 percent into the game.

Within a few minutes, the game intensified and mentally I was back in college, making shots I hadn’t attempted in 20 years. I got caught up in the excitement and overestimated my abilities, and in that moment, came down on my left knee and experienced pain unlike anything I had ever experienced before. The excitement of the game got the best of me. Rather, it got the best of my left knee when I tore my ACL. I felt like the cartoon character that sees stars and hears birds tweeting after an injury and I knew—really knew—I’d done some serious damage.

The injury would require surgery and the recovery, including rehabilitation, would be long and arduous.

The pain of the injury was one thing—and it was mighty—but acknowledging and accepting that this was a needless injury that I could have avoided, well, that was gut wrenching. I hadn’t managed the risk. I abandoned my better judgment and put myself in a vulnerable situation. I had no one but myself to blame, and I would have to live with that. It would be months before I would run again, and that was almost unbearable. 

I am a disciplined and methodical person by nature; I understand and preach the importance of planning ahead and mitigating risk. This sense of discipline has always served me well in all aspects of my life, but particularly when it comes to my two passions—running and stock trading. In my early thirties, I resolved to be more active and healthy. And what had attracted me to trading many years before also attracted me to running. I enjoy the methodology of creating and following a training plan as much as the actual act of running, which mirrors what I love so much about trading—the disciplined approach, the execution, the feeling of accomplishment.

As a runner, this meant logging long miles every week, hitting the gym for strength training twice a week, and cross-training. My goals have ranged from finishing my first 10K to eventually completing ultra-marathons.

As a trader, I pride myself on my ability to separate emotion from logic and follow my trade plan. I stick to the basic principles of smart trading: I assess my risk tolerance—how much of my portfolio am I willing to risk for potentially higher gains? I assess my near- and long-term goals. I define and research my entry and exit points, and I document what I was thinking and feeling when I executed the trade. And most importantly, I revisit my trade plan regularly, regardless of market conditions. These are the learning experiences that have helped make me a better trader. 

Nevertheless, a month after that pick-up basketball game, my trading went off track as well. I jumped into a volatile stock trade that initially looked promising (and profitable) but that quickly started moving against me. Instead of taking my loss and moving on like my trading plan prescribed, I held on, hoping that I’d make my money back. I let emotion cloud my judgment and I paid dearly for it with a hefty loss. My confidence as a trader had taken a hit, and combined with my running injury, I found myself doubting whether I should—or could—pursue either passion again. 

It would have been easy to give up on both running and trading in light of these setbacks, but I made a conscious choice to persevere. The initial shock wore off and I was able to look at things more objectively. I had to go back to the beginning, and reconcile both the decisions and the outcomes in both situations in order to move forward. 

I revisited my trade plan and resolved to live and breathe what I knew to be a logical, methodical process for trading. And most importantly, I remained confident that my experience and knowledge would prevail. Before long, I was following my disciplined approach again. As for running, I kept the finish line in mind and immersed myself in the sport as much as I could until I was physically able to get back to where I was before the injury. 

Finally, after months of pain and rehabilitation, my doctor gave me the green light to start jogging again. I was apprehensive at first, but I slowly put more weight on my knee and more miles under my feet. I am still not 100 percent, but I am getting closer each day. I am inspired by the prospect of competing in a half Ironman. I close my eyes and imagine that day, and I feel that familiar rush of adrenaline and anticipation. I can’t wait for my wife and kids to greet me at the finish line. 

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. And today I don’t fear the course, I stay the course. As long as I’m learning, I’m living. 

Continue your trading journey with 5 Habits for Successful Trading.

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